Nanette Wylde’s Storyland (2002) is a digital work that produces recombinant narratives within a frame that seeks to evoke the ethos of a circus performance. Each story within Storyland opens with a black screen, the title of the work lighting up in a randomized configuration of multi-coloured letters to a shortened subsection of of Louis-Philippe Laurendeau’s ‘Thunder and Blazes’ (1910), a small-band reworking of Julius Fučík’s Opus 68 march, ‘The Entrance of the Gladiators’ (1897). The stories within Storyland follow a basic six paragraph template, and are refreshed each time the user presses the ‘new story’ button. Each time this button is pushed, the page refreshes by playing its music again and produces elements in a new combination in order to tell the user a different narrative, seemingly depicting a whole new performance, although elements of the previous tale are displaced and repeated within each new tale.
Wylder’s choice of music is not unintentional. On one hand, it immediately indicates its use of re-purposed material, as Fučík’s original composition is intended to depict a military march drawing from the composer’s interest in the Roman Empire. In contrast, Laurendeau’s pared down small band version is commonly associated with the entrance of circus clowns, a far cry from the grandeur originally intended by Fučík. On the other, its use meta-textually gestures to the manner in which performers within a circus, while inhabiting certain fixed roles, use new guises to play a multiplicity of parts for their audience. The work’s use of its own template within which to use material that is sampled and appropriated, combined and recombined, displays not just the cultural production that occurs within performances such as those within a circus, but on a larger scale to our own performances of digital and popular culture. Storyland‘s display of the poignant as well as the absurd mirrors contemporary creation of narratives, the manner in which information is purposed and re-purposed to new ends.
Additionally, much like circus clowns, the piece gains a great deal of its impetus from its pretence of immediacy. The stories create the impression that they are only just formed, working with the reader to veil the fact that the work’s random text generation is intentional and written into the piece. However, eventually the stories begin to betray themselves, revealing these repetitive elements. Wylde’s digital work asks the reader to confront and question our use of language, the narratives we structure, and the manner in which these are purposed within the performances of our everyday lives.
Featured in: Electronic Literature Collection Volume 1